World hails Taylor war crimes conviction

Nations, rights groups and victims hailed a historic verdict after Liberia's Charles Taylor was convicted Thursday of aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone.

Taylor, 64, was found guilty on all counts including acts of terrorism, murder and rape committed by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, who paid him for arms with diamonds mined by slave labour.

While Sierra Leoneans whose limbs were chopped off by the RUF during the brutal decade-long civil war greeted the verdict, Taylor's lawyer slammed the decision and accused the prosecution of "buying" evidence.

In the first judgement against an ex-head of state by a world court since the World War II Nuremberg trials, Taylor was found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

"The trial chamber finds you guilty of aiding and abetting of all these crimes," presiding judge Richard Lussick told the UN-backed court, situated in the leafy suburb of Leidschendam just outside The Hague.

Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, the former president, who once notoriously compared himself to Jesus, stood motionless as the verdict was read and showed no emotion afterwards.

He will be sentenced by the same court on May 30. If sent to jail as expected he will be held in a British prison. His lawyers and the prosecution will have two weeks to file an appeal after sentencing.

Although the court may not impose a death sentence or life in jail, it could impose a term long enough for Taylor to spend the rest of his life behind bars, should the judges deem his crimes severe enough.

"The trial chamber found that the accused was instrumental in procuring and transporting arms to RUF rebels, that he was paid in diamonds and kept some for himself," the Samoan judge Lussick said.

The hearings, which saw model Naomi Campbell testify she had received diamonds from Taylor, lasted nearly four years, wrapping up in March 2011.

Prosecutors alleged that the RUF paid Taylor with illegally mined so-called blood diamonds worth millions, stuffed into mayonnaise jars.

These diamonds would then be smuggled through a guest house used by the RUF in Monrovia in return for arms and ammunition provided by Taylor.

Lussick said the stones were gathered by the RUF in Sierra Leone, who used slave labour and enlisted child soldiers.

"Children under the age of 15 were abducted and conscripted. They had the letters 'RUF' carved into their foreheads and backs to prevent escape," the judge said.

Lussick however stressed that while Taylor had substantial influence over the RUF, including its feared leader Foday Sankoh -- who died in 2003 before he could be convicted by the SCSL -- "it fell short of command and control" of rebel forces.

Taylor, Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003, had dismissed the charges as "lies" and claimed to be the victim of a plot by "powerful countries."

During his own 81 hours of testimony, which began in July 2009, he called the trial a "sham" and denied allegations that he had eaten human flesh.

"These convictions were obtained with corrupt and tainted evidence effectively bought by the prosecution," his lawyer Courtenay Griffiths told a news conference Thursday.

Prosecutor Brenda Hollis however lauded the verdict as "another victory for the fight against impunity."

"Today is for the people of Sierra Leone who suffered horribly at the hands of Charles Taylor and his proxy forces," she told reporters.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon hailed the ruling, saying "it sends a strong signal to all leaders that they are and will be held accountable for their actions."

The United States said Taylor's conviction "delivers a strong message" to all war criminals, while British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was proof that heads of state "cannot hide behind immunity".

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called it a "landmark" in the battle to hold accountable all perpetrators of atrocities.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the "historic moment in the development of international justice" meant tyrannical rulers could no longer retire on blood money.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the verdict sent a message to high-ranking officials responsible for crimes that they would eventually face justice.

The proceedings were also relayed live by television to Sierra Leone where hundreds watched intently.

"We as victims expect that Taylor will be given 100 years or more in prison," said Al Hadji Jusu Jarka, a former chairman of the Amputees Association, his prosthetic arms folded in his lap.

Authorities in Nigeria arrested Taylor in March 2006 and he was transferred to The Hague in 2006 after security fears in the west African country.

During Taylor's trial which began on June 4, 2007, 94 witnesses took the stand for the prosecution and 21 for the defence.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 2 hours 16 minutes ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners 3 hours ago
    Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

  • Why you can't buy America's greenest car 6 hours ago
    Why you can't buy America's greenest car

    Ask me or any auto expert what's the fastest car you can buy for any given amount, and we could easily cough up several options. Same for most luxurious, or off-roadable, or any other measurement. Yet there's one type of question that's far harder to answer: What's the greenest, most environmentally friendly car you can buy today?

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.